Thursday, Sep. 13 2012 6:00PM
Honor flight takes veterans to their memorial
World War II veterans get expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C.
By Russ Pulley
Five Lee’s Summit World War II veterans were whisked to Washington D.C. Sept. 11 on a flight to visit their national war memorial.
Norman Dawson, Virgil Julian, Jr., George Powell, Arthur Slaughter and Richard Stover were guests of the Heartland Honor Flight which took about 50 veterans from the Kansas City area to Washington, D.C. They were also honored at a luncheon Sept. 9.
“It was very interesting, something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Stover said in a telephone interview. “It was one of a kind, that’s what it was.”
Stover, who was a combat with the 25th Infantry Division in the Pacific, said he’d been to Washington on business a couple of times, but that was years before the monument was built.
“It was very impressive,” Stover said, “It even had a special spot for Kilroy.”
That was a pop-culture graffiti that became common during the war, with servicemen writing it and leaving it in unlikely places for its humor. Kilroy was depicted as a bald guy peeking over a wall, fingers clutching and big nose hanging down with the words “Kilroy was here.”
Stover said that as he visited the memorial his thoughts drifted back.
“It made me think of my friends that didn’t make it,” Stover said. “I felt pretty lucky I didn’t get wounded, I contracted malaria but I haven’t had an attack for several years. I hope it’s out of my system.”
He said during a 165-day campaign at Luzon in the Philippines, a buddy was sketching pictures of him and the division as they fought the Japanese. His friend sent him a book with copies when he got back to the states in 1946. “I’ve kept it 60 years,” he said.
While there, the group held a service for veterans who’d signed up for the trip but passed away before the date, he said.
Powell was in the Army’s 5th Division in Italy, where he was a diesel mechanic, but during the Battle of the Bulge he was transferred to infantry training.
“They needed men desperately,” Powell said. “Fortunately the war ended before I finished that training.” He did not have to go into combat.
Especially meaningful for him was having his grandson, a major in the U.S. Air Force working at the Pentagon, meet him and push his wheelchair as they visited the memorials.
“I haven’t seen him in almost 18 years,” Powell said.
Julian was a Naval Aviation Cadet, attending college in Pittsburg, Kansas, but never went overseas, and opted out when the war ended. “Nothing exciting,” he said. But people coming up to him and thanking him for his time in the service and thanking those who fought in the war made him think the time he spent in the Navy was worthwhile. He said he appreciated Bob Paradise, a Rotarian, and other volunteers who donated time to help with the trip. Each veteran had a guardian who traveled with the veterans to assist them if needed.
Dawson couldn’t be reached for comment.
Slaughter, who served on landing craft off the U.S.S. Virgo in the Pacific and on another ship, said the honor flights were a remarkable program. He took part in some of the worst invasions during the war, including Tarawa where there were heavy, heavy casualties. “That was a really bad one, a bad one for the United States and a bad one for the Japanese.”
At Reagan National Airport two fire trucks gave the men a water cannon salute as the jet taxied after landing. As part of the trip they also visited memorials for World War I, Lincoln, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Air Force, Iwo Jima and Arlington National Cemetery.
The veterans were provided shirts identifying them as part of the honor flight and many other visitors talked to them and thanked them for their service.
“We were paid a lot of honor as living veterans,” Slaughter said.
Nancy Morris, vice regent of the Prairie Chapter of the National Society for Daughters of the Revolution which meets in Lee’s Summit, said the chapter provided volunteers for the luncheon and at the airport in Kansas City. The group has been involved with honor flights for three years.
Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and businesses all contribute to the non-profit effort to fly veterans to the Capitol, Morris said.
Morris, of Raymore, said the flights started after Sen. Bob Dole was successful in getting a World War II Memorial built in Washington D.C.
By then many of the war veterans are elderly and couldn’t afford the trip to visit, she said. Honor flights began and the movement soon spread throughout the United States including the Kansas City area.
Her husband Dick Morris also served as a guardian.
As part of the trip they also visited memorials for World War I, Lincoln, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Air Force, Iwo Jima and Arlington National Cemetery.
Morris said last year there were 25 people met the veterans at the airport as they returned, this year there were 300.
“I’ve been fortunate to stand there and greet them as they come in,” Nancy Morris said. “More than one has told me that ‘After WW I when people came home, they got a ticker-tape parade. We were just sent home. Seeing the memorial means people appreciate me.”
For more information visit www.heartlandhonorflight.org